Column : Force is with Formula One

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Sep 2 2009, 03:35am hrs
In 2008, Vijay Mallyas Force India spent something to the tune of $120 million compared to Toyotas $450 million, McLarens $430 million, and BMWs $365 million, according to various reports. This year, given its earlier performance and the general recessionary trends, the budget was slashed further. The investment was no match for what the big guys in the circuit were spending, but Force India, with considerable self-belief, finally achieved a podium finish at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Interestingly, marketers and sponsors in India look at sports sponsorship in a unique manner: ratings first; the sponsorship can follow. So if you looked at television ratings for Formula One in India, it simply doesnt stand a chance, sponsorship wise.

If the 2008 seasons performance is anything to go by, TVRs are still at sub-zero levels. For the July 26, Hungarian Grand Prix the TVR stood at 0.01 (males 15-34 years). Interestingly, the viewership of F1 in India peaked in 2005 with 24 million individuals sampling the sport, thanks to Narain Karthikeyan, who drove for the Jordan team that season. The average viewership that year, on an all-India level, rose 100%, from 0.14 to 0.25. Of course, a comparison with cricket is unfair but just to put things in perspective, the IPL 20:20 debuted in 2008 with an average TVR in the inaugural season in mostly in double digits. So can Formula One establish itself as a television sport in India The early signs are positive.

Even though 75% of race viewership comes from Europe at the moment, Asian countries are catching up. ESPN Star Sports stuck its neck out as early as in 2005 when it signed a five-year agreement with F1 organisers to broadcast all 19 championship races of F1 from 2006 to the 2010 season. The Force India team has also managed to drum up an impressive list of sponsors: Kingfisher, a brand owned by Vijay Mallya, is the primary sponsor. Other sponsors for 2008 included ICICI Bank, Median, Kanyan Capital and Reliance Industries.

After Force India F1s swashbuckling race to the podium on Sunday, television viewership will, no doubt, increase. Ratings are bound to follow.

aloka@expressindia.com